Forty years after moving to Utah, Frank Layden marveled this week as he surveyed his place in the state’s sports history.
The Utah Sports Hall of Fame Foundation has built its own home, more than 50 years after the organization’s founding. The museum, a $1.5 million project honoring Layden and 232 other inductees, will open Saturday at City Creek in downtown Salt Lake City.
Vivint Smart Home Arena formerly displayed small plaques of the Hall of Fame members. The arena’s 2017 renovation left the USHOFF needing another site. Administrators considered several possibilities, such as other arenas or governmental buildings, before securing the City Creek location as their own venue.
In the process, they have created a museum that goes far beyond merely a collection of plaques. “It’s distinguished,” Layden said during a media preview this week. “It’s beautiful. It’s a shrine. It’s going to be here forever. ... This like a real Hall of Fame. They’ve got pictures and memorabilia, and just so many things."
UTAH SPORTS HALL OF FAME
Location: Northwest corner of City Creek, on the mall level near the intersection of South Temple and West Temple.
Grand opening: Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Regular hours: Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Among the features are photos and videos of the inductees, memorabilia and interactive opportunities that include a virtual reality bobsled run, celebrating Utah’s Olympic heritage.
Layden arrived in Salt Lake City in 1979 as the general manager of the Jazz, with the franchise having moved from New Orleans. In what is intended to become a rotating display, he’s being featured in the new museum along with football coaches LaVell Edwards and Ron McBride, basketball player Arnie Ferrin and Olympic athletes Noelle Pikus Pace, Logan Tom and Cael Sanderson. Ferrin, 93, is the only living member of the charter class of inductees in 1970, a group that includes 1912 Olympic gold medalist Alma Richards (the UHSOFF was founded in 1967).
The USHOFF has honored athletes from more than 50 high schools in the state. Coaches, administrators, journalists and contributors to sports in Utah have been inducted, along with athletes from nearly two dozen sports, including archery, auto racing, baseball, basketball, bowling, boxing, football, golf, gymnastics, hockey, mountaineering, rodeo, skeleton, skiing, softball, swimming, tennis, track and field, trap shooting, volleyball and wrestling.
The Utah State Legislature’s $250,000 appropriation helped launched the museum project. The other funding came from charitable foundations and private donors and the museum was aided by free or discounted services of architecture, construction, wiring and furnishings.
USHOFF president Norma Carr, the former Salt Lake Community College athletic director, is widely credited as a driving force of the project, along with past president Joel Gardner and president-elect Doug Toole, a former NFL official who's also an inductee. Rod Tueller, a former Utah State basketball coach and athletic director, did the bulk of the fund-raising as a UHSOFF board member.
“It's a relief,” Carr said, “and it's exciting.”
“A lot of people didn't think it would happen,” Tueller said.
Layden is happy that it all came together. “It’s a big part of our history,” he said. “Sports in our state are important, and they should be.”
In 2017, for the USHOFF’s 50-year anniversary, The Tribune ranked the all-time top 10 honorees (in order of induction): Alf Engen, skiing (1970); Gene Fullmer, boxing (1970); Merlin Olsen, football (1979); Larry H. Miller, softball/basketball (1992); Missy Marlowe, gymnastics (1997); Tom Chambers, basketball (2010); Jerry Sloan, basketball (2011); Karl Malone, basketball (2012) Billy Casper, golf (2013); and Sanderson (2015).
In his recent role as the selection committee chairman, Toole has sought more gender diversity and tried to strengthen the criteria for induction. "They have to have done something on a national stage,” he said.
The most recent Hall of Fame class, inducted in October, included Jazz owner Gail Miller, Olympic athletes Dennis Parker and Bill Schuffenhauer, Paralympic athlete Mike Schlappi and football player Ron Rydalch. The UHSOFF also honors distinguished high school coaches, officials and contributors and awards college scholarships to high school students.
Editor’s note: Kurt Kragthorpe is a member of the selection committee of the Utah Sports Hall of Fame.